I am intrigued by how we can live the 'holy life' as lay people. How do we erase the imaginary line between formal sitting practice and the rest of our lives? How can we bring full engagement to formal and informal practice? Is it possible to embody, in our lives, the understanding and insight that comes with intensive training? And can we live our lives in a way that expresses and continues to deepen our realization? These questions fuel my practice and my teaching.
I place a lot of emphasis on the Buddha's teaching about mindfulness of the body. The body is a powerful dharma gate. I encourage people to deeply investigate the body and use it as a place of recollection in daily life.
Our individual and cultural habits, our confusion, all require a sincere and ongoing commitment to spiritual life and practice. In order to mature our 'layastic' practice, we need to develop a palette of practices: mindfulness, loving-kindness, inquiry, reflection, precept practice, service, sutta study, etc.
I believe passionate engagement is the foundation of the spiritual path. Spiritual life blossoms when mindfulness is woven with a heartfelt sense of loving-kindness and compassion. With warm mindfulness as the basis of practice, our attachment to identity, roles and experience begins to loosen. As our experience and understanding matures, faith develops. This nourishes a devotion to practice which further deepens our insights.
It is precious to be born in the human realm and have an opportunity to practice and awaken. May we appreciate our inheritance and bring to life the teachings of the Buddha.
Fred von Allmen has studied and practiced under Tibetan and Theravada teachers since 1970 in Asia, Europe and the US. He has taught retreats worldwide for 25 years. The author of several Buddhist books in German, he is a co-founder of the Meditation Center Beatenberg in the Swiss Alps.
Gavin Milne has been practising Insight Meditation since 2004, and was invited to teach in 2015, training under the guidance of Yanai Postelnik. Inspired and influenced by other paths, he is particularly interested in exploring practice wherever we find ourselves – everything from family life to responding to the wider issues of our era.
Gina Sharpe is a founding teacher of New York Insight. She discovered the Dharma over 30 years ago and has studied and practiced in Asia and the United States. She was trained as a Retreat Teacher under the mentorship of Jack Kornfield. She teaches at Retreat Centers and meditation communities around the United States, including at a maximum security prison for women. She holds two meditation classes in Westchester County, New York.
Gregory has been teaching meditation since 1980. He developed the practice of Insight Dialogue, offering retreats worldwide and authoring books including Insight Dialogue: The Interpersonal Path to Freedom and Dharma Contemplation: Meditating Together with Wisdom Texts.
What has always engaged me is working with practitioners who are deepening their commitment to the Dharma and then seeing them take a quantum leap in their understanding. My contribution to this commitment is working towards conveying a Theravadan practice with a Mahayana spirit.
The Theravadan practice of vipassana provides simple, direct instructions that can be immediately understood and applied in daily life as well as retreat practice. The Mahayana spirit has the beautiful attitude that we practice not for ourselves alone, but for all sentient beings. Between the two, the unfolding of liberation for ourselves and others becomes a simple, down-to-earth practice that anyone can do.
It is fun for me to take the most difficult concepts and put them into accessible language, to unwrap the mystery. So I try to find ways to explore the breadth of concepts like "emptiness" -- to see how the entire path can be explained in terms of this synonym for nibbana. One of my aims is to bring the goal of freedom into the here and now. This way practitioners get a taste of freedom, so they know what they are heading toward on their journey to liberation.
The tools of mindfulness and lovingkindness can be picked up by anyone. They are easy to understand and they bring immediate benefit to our lives. The essence of vipassana is ideally suited to western society, especially to the resonance between our psychological turn of mind and our quest for spiritual understanding.
The more I rest in present awareness, and don't separate myself out from life, the more I appreciate the impact that I have on others. Only when I am present am I sensitive to my connection to the world, am I able to feel how important it is to be non-harming in my words and actions. When I am lost in thought, I lose that simplicity and sensitivity.
I continually point toward this secret of the present moment, for if I am really present, I don't suffer as much, I don't cause as much suffering, and I am less afraid. I may experience intense pain or pleasure, but the degree of mental suffering lessens. Practicing mindfulness de-conditions the habits that prevent me from being centered in the present. This in turn gives me a more stable awareness, which allows me to recognize my inherent peace and freedom.
It is this taste of nowness--introducing people to the living quality of the present moment and its sense of freedom--that most engages me in my teaching practice. I find no evidence of suffering, in my mind, unless I remind myself of some event that is not in the present. Suffering arises when I am lost in my imagination, reviewing the past or fearfully anticipating the future.
I feel tremendous gratitude and love for the dharma, and the practice of awareness. Knowing my mind a little better, and being less preoccupied with my internal drama, makes me more available to the suffering of others. Consequently, I am moved to give to others rather than focusing on what I can get. In spite of being more attuned to suffering, staying present allows each day to become more joyful, compelling and intereesting. My desire to run from this moment, by running after an imagined, better future, or away from a past fear, has diminished. It is present wakefulness that helps me recover my capacity to live with balance and ease in the world.